TheBigOutside Blog

Michael Lanza, creator of TheBigOutside.com and Northwest Editor of Backpacker Magazine, writes about hiking, backpacking, climbing, backcountry skiing, paddling and other self-powered outdoor adventures

Archive for Yellowstone National Park

The Best-Laid Plans: A Weeklong Ski Traverse in Yellowstone

The bison swings his massive, battering-ram head in our direction. Steam issues from his nostrils in short bursts. I’m not sure whether bison actually glare, but this 2,000-pound beef bulldozer with horns distinctly appears to be glaring at us. He looks perturbed.

Right behind me, my friends Jerry Hapgood and David Ports peer around me and try to take a measure of the first traffic of any kind, wild or human, that we’ve encountered so far, on the second morning of a seven-day, early March ski traverse in Yellowstone National Park. We are crossing an unnamed geyser basin several miles southwest of Old Faithful. The bison is grazing in grassy patches where the heat from thermal activity has melted away the snow. Then we notice two more bison lurking in the tightly spaced lodgepole pine trees to either side of the narrow trail.

So he’s brought friends. It’s three on three, but they collectively have a good 5,000 pounds on us—not a very fair fight. I silently curse the fact that I randomly happened to be the one skiing out front breaking trail through the snow at this moment.

David, Jerry, and I are each carrying a backpack and towing a sled loaded with winter camping gear, food, and—full disclosure—a survival ration of beer. (Hey, sleds have plenty of space, so why not?) We are not exactly light and nimble. Weaving through the close trees to get around the bison seems as likely as one of these beasts executing a backflip.

Fifteen minutes or more crawl past. The bison don’t move. I don’t feel like challenging them on that. From the back of the line, David suggests, “Mike, why don’t you just ski past him?”

As I’m thinking about how to suggest to David that perhaps he could come show me how to do that, the bison in front of me abruptly turns and ambles toward us.

Stumbling and tripping, struggling to backpedal with our sled cabooses, the three of us look like Moe, Larry, and Curly trying to get out of the way. But before getting close enough to trample us into the snow, the bison detours off the trail toward another patch of grass.

We hurry down the now-clear trail as quickly as we can drag our sleds, not pausing until the bison are long out of sight.

Read the entire story and see photos and a video from this trip at thebigoutside.com/Near-Epic_in_Yellowstone.html. See other stories about outdoor adventures at TheBigOutside.com.

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Skiing Yellowstone: wildlife, scenery, and hot air

The snowcoach rumbles away, leaving us in a wintry silence disturbed only by a slight breeze and the gastrointestinal emissions of a supervolcano that last let out a really big one 640,000 years ago. Back then, it ejected about 240 cubic miles of rock and dust into the sky. Today, as seems always the case with these things, it just sounds a little rude and smells badly.

Skiing at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone

My wife, Penny, and I, with our son, Nate, and daughter, Alex, have just stepped off the snowcoach with our cross-country skis in Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone National Park. Watching us disembark with our grade-school kids, the other passengers stared solemnly, as if expecting they would be the last to see us alive. Clearly, none of them are Nordic skiers, otherwise they might have realized that we’re setting out on one of the coolest half-day adventures in the entire national park system: ski touring along the Firehole River through Yellowstone’s Upper Geyser Basin.

Skiing two-and-a-half miles up an almost flat valley—with one fun, long downhill that’s not very steep—we’ll pass through an area that’s home to one-fourth of the active geysers in the world and the greatest concentration of them. When we reach Old Faithful after a few leisurely hours and a lot of stopping and gawking, we’ll rendezvous with the snowcoach for the ride back to the town of West Yellowstone, Montana, where we’re staying.

We set out down the Biscuit Basin Trail, following the tracks of previous skiers, though completely alone for now. Across the open valley, white steam clouds billow into the sky from scores of geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles, giving the landscape the look of Hell bursting up through the Earth’s surface. Steam freezes to lodgepole pine trees, sugar coating some of them while long icicles hang in bunches from others. Elk graze the patches of ground kept open by the heat from thermal features. Bald eagles soar overhead.

Nate and Alex throw snowballs—mostly at me—and every few minutes point excitedly to another geyser spitting or erupting scalding water. We gaze into one of Yellowstone’s most famous features, the 23-foot-deep, sky-blue mouth of Morning Glory Pool. A short while later, as we’re watching steam and hot water spurt from the 12-foot-tall mound of Giant Geyser, Nate shouts and points at a plume shooting skyward just a few hundred feet away: Riverside Geyser, named by the 1871 Hayden Expedition, sends a 75-foot-high arc over the Firehole River for as much as 20 minutes.

Read the full story, and see a gallery of photos and a video of skiing in Yellowstone, as well as other outdoor-adventure stories and reviews of new gear, at TheBigOutside.com.